More About the Refuge
Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge is one of over 560 refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System - a network of lands set aside and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service specifically for wildlife. It is situated south of Walden, Colorado at an elevation ranging from 8,100 to 8,700 feet above sea level making it the highest refuge in the lower 48 states. Located in an intermountain glacial basin approximately 35 miles wide and 45 miles long; an area that is the northernmost of four such "parks" in Colorado; the region is known locally as North Park.
North Park opens north into Wyoming. It is rimmed on the west by the Park Range, on the south by the Rabbit Ears Mountains, on the southeast by the Never-Summer Range, and on the east and northeast by the Medicine Bow Range. Numerous slow, meandering streams are interspersed on the basin floor, eventually combining to form the headwaters of the North Platte River. Most of the flood plain along the streams is irrigated meadow. The low rises adjacent to the flood plain and the higher rises on the Refuge are characterized by sagebrush grasslands.
Summer in North Park is warm, but brief. Just enough sun and rain occur to green the bottomlands and upland slopes and to yield fingerling trout in the streams. Winter has nearly always driven less hardy and vigorous creatures, including humans, to lower elevations.
The majority of Refuge land was purchased with Duck Stamp funds, however in March of 2008 local ranch owner, Gloria Chandler, willed her ranch, consisting of 2,246 acres, to the Refuge. The Chandler Unit is mostly located to the east of the junction of State Highways 125 and 127, approximately 11 miles north of the town of Walden. It is made up of a mixture of habitats including: irrigated meadow, riparian, sagebrush uplands, wetlands and mixed conifer and aspen. Pinkham Creek flows through this unit. The Chandler Unit remains closed to the public.
The Ute tribe traveled to this area during the summer months to hunt bison; abandoning the valley during the long, snowy, and icy winters. They referred to North Park as "Cow Lodge" and "Bull Pen." Their small numbers and nomadic lifestyle left a minimal imprint on the land. One might easily imagine their quiet encampments within the Refuge.
The first recorded exploratory footsteps to appear in the valley belonged to Jacques Bijeau in the year 1820. Like many of his French countrymen, Bijeau was lured by the promise of profit in trapping beaver.
In 1844, Lieutenant John F. Fremont traversed North Park from Northgate to Willow Creek Pass, recording the following in his journal:
"The valley narrowed as we ascended and presently divided
into a gorge, through which the river passed as through
a gate - a beautiful circular valley of 30 miles in
diameter, walled in all around with snowy mountains, rich
with water and grass, fringed with pine on the mountain
sides below the snow, and a paradise to all grazing
Others, like James O. Pinkham, came to exploit the area's mineral wealth. Miners preferred the summer months for their endeavors. The first residents to brave the cold were Jacob Fordyce and his family. They stayed the winter of 1878, 2 years after Colorado became a State and a full 50 years after the first explorers entered the valley.
Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge is managed to benefit the diversity of plants and wildlife found in this high mountain valley of the southern Rocky Mountains. Wildlife and their habitats come first in the management of the Refuge, before all other uses. The management plan places great importance on the role the Refuge has in the North Park ecosystem - for the environment and the residents of North Park. The Refuge and its resources are also managed for the benefit of the citizens of the United States. The Refuge land provides habitat for large mammals, Neotropical migratory birds, nesting waterfowl, fishes and species of concern from national and regional conservation plans. Through wildlife-dependent recreation and education, people have opportunities to learn of the wonder and significance of North Park's fauna and flora.